They clearly looked like a team that hadn’t played competitive hockey for months, but that was true of the Hurricanes, except they came out ready to go.
On this week’s Bantering the Blueshirts I picked the Rangers in 4, mostly because I don’t like picking a winner of a series that goes the distance, but acknowledged that there was a chance for some sloppy and ugly hockey. The overall start was disjointed with penalties, emotions running high, and the early goal against meant the Rangers needed to change things up in an attempt to get even and push forward.
It didn’t help that Jesper Fast was taken out of the game early after getting trucked by Brady Skjei, and it will be interesting to see who comes in if he’s unable to go on Monday.
Brady Skjei gets the playoffs started with a huge hit on his former teammate Jesper Fast pic.twitter.com/wTbSR0dyvZ— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) August 1, 2020
With all of that said, here are some rapid fire thoughts I had from the game
- Long Live the King — Henrik Lundqvist was the unexpected starter with Igor Shesterkin being unfit to play, and his performance was one of his best this entire season. Despite having the longest layoff of the season — even more so than the stretches he went without playing during the regular season — he answered the call with a vintage performance. It is hard to fault Hank on any of the three goals against, and overall he stopped 34 of 37. At even strength he had a 0.19 GSAx, and a dFSv% (Delta of expected and actual save percentage) of 0.35. Igor is expected to be good for Game 2 on Monday, and if this is the only game Hank plays this series; he sure had a good one.
- Wow It’s a Nice Turnaround — This season was an up and down one for Kaapo Kakko, and it was to be expected of someone who only turned 19 in February. It has only been two games — the exhibition vs. the Islanders, and Game 1 vs. Carolina — but Kakko looks like a whole new player. He’s visibly stronger on the puck, more assertive in his own zone, and has a shoot first mentality that wasn’t there earlier this season. More than anything, it looks like Kakko is refreshed, and overall better adjusted to pro hockey. He had a lengthy schedule of games in his draft year, had to adjust to a new country, a new diet and workout regiment, all while dealing with Type 1 diabetes and celiac disease. Hopefully this is Kakko turning a corner, and he’s someone who could get a bump in ice time if Jesper Fast doesn’t play in Game 2.
- Stale Bread — Artemiy Panarin had an amazing regular season for the Rangers, and is one of the most dynamic players in the NHL, but something’s looked off as of late. He wasn’t especially sharp vs. the Islanders, and outside of a surge in the third period in which he recorded an assist on the second goal, he’s looked off his game despite leading the Rangers with a Corsi For percentage of 56. No one should panic yet, but the Rangers will need him to be much better in Game 2. This season he didn’t have many multiple bad games in a row, and here’s hoping for a better result on Monday.
- Power Kill — Power kills are usually used to describe 4v5 units that are able to generate chances while shorthanded to kill off penalties, but in this case I’m referring to a Rangers power play that went 0-7 vs. the Hurricanes. Throughout the game it took a lot of time for the units to get setup, and hopefully this was a case of getting the yips out early.
- Almost There — Julien Gauthier has yet to score a goal since joining the Rangers, but every game he’s played in there are moments in which he looks like he just about to break out. The injury to Fast resulted in some forwards picking up extra minutes, and Gauthier was one such beneficiary. He logged 11:41 during the game, and almost all of it came at even strength. Per Evolving Hockey, Gauthier finished with a CF% of 55.56 (10 chances for, 8 against), and an xGF% of 51.28.
Given the nature of playing in the bubble without a crowd, it remains to be seen what type of “momentum” carryover there will be. But as a general statement, the Rangers show up ready to play.
The team will need to show more of the urgency highlighted in the second period which saw them put 15 shot on goal, and not play the way they did in the first (four shots on goal), and the third (seven shots on goal).
The top guns also need to show up if they want a chance to win, because goaltending can only do so much. Whether it is Hank or Igor, the team will be in good hands, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t unsure of what direction David Quinn is going to go in.